The complex European rules that prevent iTunes from opening its doors everywhere—French members buying music from the German iTunes, for example—may be getting overhauled. That's if Europe's Competition Commissioner gets her way.
And she probably will. Commissioner Neelie Croes is also behind the recent $1.5 billion fine levied against Intel for anti-competitive behavior. Her attention, along with other lawmakers, has now turned to the complex layers of Europe's music licensing laws, and how they unfairly impact European shoppers trying to purchase MP3s legally.
The main difficulty is that each European member is still a country in its own right, and each brings hundreds of years of legal precedent with it, which the EU has to unravel or revise. It's actually France that brought the world the first performance rights regulations, for example: When the composer Bourget fought with a Parisian cafe in 1847 over fees for playing music he'd composed. The legal case set up SACEM, the French performing rights society, and others like it across Europe—and the U.S. has its own version in the RIAA. The fact that each nation has defended its rights to set performance fees and laws has caused complications for companies like Apple, which has had to open a plethora of stores, each catering to the specific laws of the region. For some cases, like in Poland, Apple's decided the situation simply doesn't merit attention, so there is no Polish iTunes store.
The intention of the Commission is to fix this, with legal cases if necessary, so that pan-European music licensing will be possible. Ahead of such legal action, SACEM today bowed to pressure and said it would allow other nations to license its performers—the first step in the process.
Why is this important? It may result in greater competition in online music stores within Europe, for one, which should drive down prices. But more importantly its another sign—albeit a tiny, tiny one—that the old guard music industry is realizing it's the 21st Century at last. And that can only be a good thing for digital music lovers globally.